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Stop Stressing - Do, Defer, Delegate

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
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Sometimes the problem that we're dealing with isn't necessarily a matter of the stress itself, but rather the way we're approaching it. After all, we can't lay all the blame on outside forces — we do make our own problems just as often.

Fortunately, this also means that we can correct those same problems that we've made. Most of the difficulties we find ourselves engineering are easily controlled and modified with a bit of careful effort.

The best example of this situation is in our tendency to over commit ourselves to various tasks, trying to give everyone our personal attention when this clearly is not always possible. We want to be responsible people and live up to our best ability, but that shouldn't come at the expense of our health and mental well-being. What we need to learn to do is analyze, categorize and prioritize our efforts.

Step One — Analyze

Just knowing more about our problems can help us do what needs to be done to get them under control. This is why our Stop Stressing program puts such an emphasis on keeping personal logs. If you've been keeping up with your stress log, you already have a great tool to help you start organizing your tasks.

Look at your stress log for the last two weeks. See what kinds of tasks keep coming up, as well as looking at those that only appear every now and then, or on single occasions. Don't make any decisions just yet; you're trying to study, not act.

Consider what is involved in each of these stressors. Did you have to commit to a long-term effort? Could someone else have handled it? Did it genuinely have to be done right away, or could it have waited? Consider these sorts of questions for each stressor you've encountered lately.

Step Two — Categorize

Now that you have a bit more of a picture about the specific events that are bringing you stress, let's look at the ones that you can control vs. the ones you can't.

Uncontrollable stressors are ones that we really can't deal with directly. This would include difficult traffic, a bad heat wave, being sick or just having a highly demanding work environment. There are ways to deal with each of these, but they focus largely on our own responses rather than being able to change the environment itself.

Those within our ability to control are usually our tasks. These are projects that have to be finished, chores that need to be done, and plans that have to be kept.

Divide the list into these two categories, and set aside the ones you can't deal with. We'll cover those another time; for now, let's focus on the task-oriented category, which we can and do deal with ourselves.

Step Three — Prioritize

Remember that we asked the questions about whether a project genuinely needed our direct attention and if it needed to be done immediately. It's time to apply these answers and break tasks into the Do, Defer or Delegate process.

First, go through the list and look at the projects as a whole. If a task genuinely requires your attention, and needs to be done as soon as possible — such as a deadline assignment given to you at work — then it should be rated priority A. Avoid the temptation to put too much into this priority category, as that defeats the purpose of this exercise. For help, consider explaining the tasks you feel tempted to rate as "A" to your stress buddy or a partner at work. Ask them if they feel the task really must be done by you, or done now, and why they think the way they do.

Priority B is for tasks that still need your attention, but wouldn't collapse without your immediate intervention. This is a good way to free up time for priority A concerns. It relieves the stress of having to juggle too many things right at once, as well as making you feel confident about the project — you aren't ignoring it. Instead, you've scheduled it for a proper time when you can deal with it the best way, instead of rushing it.

Priority C is one of the strongest tools available, but we often skip it because we don't want to burden others. C tasks don't require your intervention at all, and can be delegated out to others. Perhaps someone else knows more about the matter than you do, and can handle it better. Getting tasks off our plate entirely is a great way to allow us to concentrate on A and B priorities.

If you're still feeling awkward about passing matters off to another party, remember not to make the decision yourself. Ask your stress buddy if they can help you, either by taking a task off your plate or recommending someone who'd be good at the particular task you need dealt with. This takes the decision partly out of your hands and relieves the burden of it — you aren't making the decision for someone else without their input, but are rather bringing them in based on advice.

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